Utilities Under Pressure As Sandy Approaches
WASHINGTON (AP) — Eastern states that saw outages that lasted for days after last year's freak Halloween snowstorm and Hurricane Irene in late August 2011 are already pressuring power companies to be more ready this time.
Utilities, road crews, and emergency management personnel throughout Pennsylvania are girding for a potentially damaging storm early next week.
Utility workers have been told to cancel vacations, state transportation officials are plotting strategy and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency has been in touch with federal weather forecasters about the likely path of the storm.
Hurricane Sandy barreled over Cuba and Haiti on Thursday. Forecasters say the hurricane will likely combine with other weather systems to bring high winds, heavy rains and possibly snow to the northeastern U.S.
PPL Corp. spokesman Michael Wood said the utility has canceled personal time for its workers, asked hundreds of local contractors to remain on standby and will import crews from its sister utility in Kentucky as early as Sunday night.
"We're looking at this as a very serious storm that could be potentially significantly damaging to our system and impact our customers," Wood said.
PPL's phone and computer systems were overwhelmed last year when Hurricane Irene and then a late October snow storm caused hundreds of thousands of customers to lose power. Wood said the utility has since made upgrades, adding phone lines and call center staff, and is better prepared to handle a monster storm.
"We're in a much better place this year," he said.
Other Pennsylvania utilities, including PECO and FirstEnergy, said they're also getting ready in the event Sandy slams the state. PECO opened its emergency operations center in Plymouth Meeting, outside Philadelphia, on Thursday morning.
Maryland utility companies and emergency management officials say they're preparing for large-scale power outages, flooding and other damage from a storm that could arrive as early as Sunday.
Exelon Corp.'s Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. said Thursday that it's planning for hundreds of thousands of potential outages. The company says it's putting 1,300 workers on standby and making plans to bring in at least 500 from other states.
In western Maryland, Potomac Edison is denying new vacation requests until any storm repairs have been made. The company is looking at the possibility that Tropical Storm Sandy could be followed by wintry weather in mountains.
The utilities and the Maryland Emergency Management Agency say lessons learned from past storms, including one in late June, that could help reduce damage and recovery time.
Denise Van Buren of Central Hudson, a power utility that serves New York's mid-Hudson Valley, said they are monitoring the storm track closely because of the potential for high winds and snow with leaves still lingering on trees.
"Those are the ingredients that give us great cause for concern," Van Buren said. "And we are still raw from last year's October snow storm."
The Long Island Power Authority has begun coordinating efforts with state, New York City, county and local emergency management organizations, said spokesman Mark Gross.
"We urge customers not to take this storm lightly and start making preparations as this storm could result in a multi-day outage for parts of our service territory," Gross said.
Jersey Central Power & Light, which was criticized for its response to Irene, notified employees to be ready for extended shifts. In Pennsylvania, PPL Corp. spokesman Michael Wood said, "We're in a much better place this year."
Asked if he expected utilities to be more prepared, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick responded: "They'd better be."